Pat Gallagher envisions a more impactful and relevant University of Pittsburgh

Gallagher also doesn’t see his job as managing the faculty and students who do the knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. His role is to create conditions and manage the environment though things like collaborative capacity.

And he says it’s not hard to convince faculty, staff and students that Pitt needs a closer and wider role with the region.

“Everyone at the university is here because they want to make a difference. They’ve already bought into that mission,” Gallagher says. “I don’t want it to sound like that influence is a difficult sell. People are here because they really do want to make the world better, even though that sounds corny sometimes. It’s really, really true.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Orient people toward the mission to lessen turf wars and silo building.
  • Take up your challenges; the pressure could push you to a better way.
  • A wider focus doesn’t have to subtract from the core mission.

 

The file:

Name: Pat Gallagher
Title: Chancellor
Company: University of Pittsburgh

Born: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Education: Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pittsburgh and a bachelor’s degree in physics and philosophy from Benedictine College in Kansas.

You mentioned your parents are Pennsylvania natives. Which sports team did you root for?

Mom was from Pittsburgh. She grew up in Carrick. Dad was from Philly. I had no local allegiance because New Mexico didn’t have a team. So, it was going to be either dad’s team or mom’s team, and I’m sorry, but the Steelers were it because I came of age for sports in the ’70s. I’ve been a lifelong Steelers fan.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

My very first job was a startup. I was in middle school and a friend and I started a lawn mowing and lawn service company. We got carried away doing the brochures. We canvassed the whole neighborhood and, based on the flyers, everybody thought we were a professional landscaping company. Then this skinny 13-year-old kid would show up with his dad’s mower.

I did get a couple good lawn-mowing gigs out of that experience and realized I did not want to mow lawns for the rest of my life. It’s a pretty hot job in Albuquerque.

Where might someone find you on the weekend?

In the summer, there’s a good chance you’d find me on a river. I love whitewater rafting and kayaking. In the winter, maybe on a frozen hill skiing.

What’s your favorite vacation spot?

Usually near water, whether it’s relaxing on the beach or a little scuba diving or just on a lake or a river.

What are you currently reading?

I have five unfinished books that I’m constantly scanning through next to my desk. But what I’m reading for fun is a little bit of urban fantasy, just to turn off my brain.

What was the hardest management skill for you to learn and why?

Sometimes your positional role, being a boss, is about taking actions that are in the interest of the organization that you’re supporting. Being a human being and a friend often means that you’re working on the individual’s best interest. You’re taking care of people; that’s what friends and colleagues do for each other. Most of the time those two interests line up with each other, but occasionally they don’t. Then you’re asked to take a very tough position for the individual, but it’s in the organization’s best interest.

It turns out it’s a hard thing, because it touches your humanity. You don’t want to be a jerk when you have to make those hard calls, and I think people struggle with how to manage their own emotions and feelings around that. That’s a good thing. I think it would be rotten if people found that to be an easy thing to do.

But learning how to do it in a way that’s fair and that tries to balance was something that took a lot of experience. What I try to do is just be very candid with people under those circumstances and identify, ‘Look, this is not necessarily going to be viewed in your personal interest right now, but here’s why I’m doing it and here’s why I’m taking this decision for the interest of the organization.’ Try to arm them with understanding and information.